3 p.m. on Thursday: The Grande Lady was back in business
Jon Reecher was cool as a cucumber on Tuesday, sitting in his office at The Gasparilla Inn & Club. All around him was a frenzy of activity – carpets were being cleaned, brass was being polished, fixtures were being dusted and maintained. The time until their grand opening on December 15 could be counted in hours instead of days, but Reecher, the Inn’s general manager, had it all in hand. You would never be able to guess that just last month many of the wings on the main building and the adjoining cottages didn’t have complete roofs, or that water had poured down the walls in several of the buildings. The dramatic breaches in the integrity of the old buildings could not be seen that well from the street, but they were there. And they were many.
Just shy of three months ago that Jon and his crew had to explain to a whole lot of people that their reservations at the historic venue had to be canceled or rescheduled. While the solidly built Inn was left standing after the hurricane, there was a vast amount of repair work that needed to be done.
Water damage, wind damaged roofs, a severely damaged golf course … the laundry list of storm details for the Inn’s main building, cottages and other buildings must have been a mile long.
“We’ve done a lot of communicating,” Corey Anglin said. “We sent out a letter explaining to people who are coming what the island looks like now. The lack of vegetation, the blue tarps, the ongoing construction …”
Anglin is head of Marketing and Communications at The Inn. She has been working alongside Reecher to coordinate how many people they can handle on the registry at this time, and how to explain the ongoing work being done.
They’ve also had to coordinate the work of about 400 employees of The Inn and at least 150 outside contractors. It took a lot of people to accomplish what has been done so far, which includes repair or replacement to every roof on the main house, as well as every roof on every cottage and guesthouse.
All the while, the kitchen staff was serving food to everyone, every work day. Earlier in the process, right after the storm, they served food to the entire community for free – and it was delicious.
Reecher said the golf course would be ready some time around October of 2023, which will be in time for their opening next year. He explained that the storm ripped up all of the irrigation work, as well as the pump houses.
The grass on the croquet lawn and surrounding golf course looks pretty good: Reecher said that was because they had the ability to hand water it. The further away from the main building you get, the more dry the grass gets. Along the Charlotte Harbor side of the course (along the Bayou), it’s yellow and withered.
The old banyan tree on the course that so many loved is gone, but The Inn has plans to replace it at some point with a fully mature tree. The Inn also plans to have another tree put up next to the brand-new playground (which was also completed this week).
Many of the tennis courts are playable now, Reecher said, and the rest will be playable by Christmas. The pickle ball courts are also ready for use.
The huge, gorgeous Christmas tree The Inn has every year is in place and ready to greet guests as they enter the building for the first time since the hurricane. To think it has been less than three months since it hit, and to see what work has been done to get the “Grande Lady” back to glory is amazing. Reecher attributes their success to each and every person involved in the storm renovation.
“Our team really came together,” Reecher said. “We all feel pretty blessed.”
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